Clemson Football: 5 Backups Critical to Tigers' Success in 2014

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

Clemson Football: 5 Backups Critical to Tigers' Success in 2014

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    Clemson senior cornerback Garry Peters
    Clemson senior cornerback Garry PetersJared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Clemson Tigers are just weeks away from the beginning of fall camp, and most of the starting positions are locked up. However, if the Tigers expect to win 10 games or more for the fourth season in a row, they'll need depth.

    Clemson has recruited well over the past four years. That depth will be put to the test this fall as several younger players—specifically in the secondary—ascend into starting positions for the first time in their college careers. 

    And there's always injuries. What happens if All-American defensive end Vic Beasley goes down?

    The best teams in sports are the ones that survive when a star goes down. Those teams have backups ready to step in at a moment's notice and pick up right where their predecessor went down.

    Remember Frank Reich? Reich is most famous for being the architect behind the biggest comebacks in both NFL and college football history. Reich was the backup quarterback for each of those teams.

    What about Tom Brady? Arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history was an unknown backup when he stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe and never looked back. 

    Not everyone who fills in for an injured starter will be a star, but it's those backups who come in and quietly perform well that help teams win championships.

    Here are five backups who are critical to Clemson's success in 2014.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson

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    Freshman sensation Deshaun Watson
    Freshman sensation Deshaun Watson247Sports

    Deshaun Watson, a true freshman from Gainesville, Georgia, enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. Coaches had Watson competing with senior Cole Stoudt and sophomore Chad Kelly for the starting quarterback job that Stoudt eventually won.

    Watson even competing for the job that early speaks volumes about his ability.

    The top dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2014, per 247Sports (subscription required), Watson is both a dynamic runner and terrific passer. Accuracy is his biggest flaw at the moment, but much of that in spring practice was due to his unfamiliarity with offense and his receivers. 

    If Stoudt goes down or is ineffective, Watson may come in and never sit on the bench again during his Clemson career. 

Offensive Tackle Shaq Anthony

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    Clemson tackle Shaq Anthony
    Clemson tackle Shaq AnthonyRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    Shaq Anthony, a junior, is an experienced reserve for Clemson heading into the 2014 season. Coaches would probably like Anthony to start. He's big (6'4", 280) and has the athleticism of a tight end. 

    Anthony has started a total of five games in his first two years and is listed as the top reserve at both tackle positions on Clemson's post-spring depth chart. He was also the top backup at tackle in 2013, too. 

    Perhaps Anthony's biggest flaw is maturity. He is suspended for the season opener at Georgia due to an unspecified rule violation.

    Anthony could also stand to improve as a run-blocker, too. 

    Isaiah Battle is slated to be Clemson's starter at left tackle. He has the potential to be a star. Right tackle is still up for grabs, though. Anthony will compete with fellow junior Joe Gore to start on that side.

    Whether Anthony wins the starting spot or not, he is an important piece to Clemson's retooled offense.

Tight End Jordan Leggett

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    Jordan Leggett
    Jordan LeggettRAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    Losing Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant means the Tigers lose the majority of their receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns from 2013.

    Who will step in and help replace some of that production?

    Enter sophomore tight end Jordan Leggett. At 6'5", 240 pounds, Leggett has the prototypical size teams covet in today's tight ends. He also has the athleticism of a wide receiver, too. He could be an asset to Stoudt in the red zone with his size and strong hands. 

    Currently, senior Sam Cooper is ahead of Leggett on the depth chart. Cooper is more experienced and is the better blocker, but Leggett will see the field. He presents a mismatch every time he steps on the field, and offensive coordinator Chad Morris will exploit that often.

Cornerback Garry Peters

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    Garry Peters
    Garry PetersRICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    Freshman Mackensie Alexander was the talk of the spring. One of the nation's top recruits in 2013, Alexander won a starting job this spring with a string of strong practices.

    Opposite of him, sophomore Cordrea Tankersley is slated to start. Clemson's top tackler on special teams in 2013, Tankersley has the potential to be very good, too.

    But what happens if one or both of these young players struggle?

    Enter senior Garry Peters. Peters had a very good 2012 season before getting injured in 2013 and falling down the depth chart a bit. Peters has started five games in his career and will play a big role this fall.

    Fellow senior Martin Jenkins is also back and will be in the mix as well.

Linebacker Dorian O'Daniel

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    Freshman linebacker Dorian O'Daniel
    Freshman linebacker Dorian O'Daniel247Sports

    Dorian O'Daniel, much like Alexander, was one of Clemson's top recruits in 2013. He also redshirted last season and is poised for a strong freshman season.

    But where will he play?

    The Tigers have experience at the starting positions led by Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward. O'Daniel is presently listed as a backup on the strong side behind T.J. Burrell. Expect Burrell to compete with O'Daniel during fall camp for the starting spot. Burrell has a bit more experience, though.

    O'Daniel's biggest hope to see the field this fall is Steward. The senior linebacker was once a prized recruit himself but has fought injuries throughout his college career. While O'Daniel is currently penciled in on the strong side, look for him to step in for Steward if the veteran were to get injured. 

    O'Daniel is simply too talented to not get on the field. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will likely find a role for O'Daniel to ease him into the college game versus overwhelming him as a starter in 2014.